“What makes the truly exceptional companies different from the other companies?”
- Jim Collins, Good to Great
That’s the question that Jim Collins spent 6 years obsessing over when he wrote Good to Great. A masterpiece on business that studied visionary companies. Not just successful but visionary, industry-defining companies.
Companies that were the best in their business, survived over 70+ years, and invented things like ATM machines, the Ford Model T, Tylenol.
His insights were the blueprint for how we built our company culture at Klyxx Creative.
In this article, we’re going to show you how we took one of his most important lessons on what makes companies visionary and baked it into a modern agency.
And a step by step of how you can too.
“Having a great idea or being a charismatic visionary leader is “time telling”; building a company that can prosper far beyond the presence of any single leader and through multiple product life cycles is “clock building.”
- Jim Collins, Good to Great
A more modern way of saying what Jim was trying to underline is, you have to work ON your business, not just IN it. The business has to be the product. The clock.
But, to do that, you have to be extremely proactive about what the company prioritizes and does. Otherwise, you’re always putting out fires and reacting.
On top of being proactive, you have to make it systemized so the planning and the ‘time-telling’ doesn’t depend on a single leader.
How do we do that week-to-week? The Sprint.
For us, the Sprint means a few things:
Every company sets goals. The hard part is making sure that you’re not just paying lip-service to them and spending every day making sure what you’re doing is impacting them.
The Sprint forces you to plan out tasks every week and clearly draw a line from the company goals to why it needs to get done. If there isn’t a connection, it gets scrapped.
Every company has a project management software to track tasks. The hard part is making sure that it doesn’t become an out of control to-do list that’s more a sense of stress than help.
The Sprint forces every team to first start with their capacity (how much room for work do we have?), then their priority (what NEEDS to get done?), and only then do you plan the tasks.
Every Friday, have the specific team leads in your company sit down with their team and answer a few questions.
#1: What’s our overarching goal for the upcoming week? How does it connect to the departments quarterly goals or the company’s quarterly goals (assuming you have those).
#2: What’s our capacity for the week (this can be hours / task count, whatever you guys use)
#3: What are all the tasks that have gotten scheduled into our project management software throughout the week and where does that leave us on capacity?
#4: With the excess capacity left, what can we do to move the needle on our quarterly goals?
#5: Does every task have a Directly Responsible Individual and a deadline? And does everyone have context to do what they need to do?
But like all systems, it’s all great in theory but will fall apart if it’s not critically reviewed on a regular basis. Enter the Sprint Retrospective.
Visionary companies focus primarily on beating themselves. Success and beating competitors comes to the visionary companies not so much as the end goal, but as a residual result of relentlessly asking the question “How can we improve ourselves to do better tomorrow than we did today? - Jim Collins, Good to Great
So, we have a systematic approach to taking our goals and making them into actionable work every single week through our Sprint Planning.
But how do we hold ourselves accountable? And how do we make sure we keep improving the system?
The Sprint Retrospective happens every Friday. As a team, we stop for a moment, and look back at our week and review if we actually did what we said we would.
We’ve learned that every process looks pristine when it’s just theory.
But it slowly decays when it hits the real world. You cut corners because it was a busy week. You let standards slip just a little. And then, over time, what was supposed to help you do better work becomes just another bureaucratic process that’s a slog to get through.
The Sprint Retrospective is a constant reminder that either we keep an eye on our company’s goals, processes, and promises, or we let things decay.
It’s our weekly check-up to make sure we don’t get complacent in our work.
#1: We always start with the 10k foot view. Why are we doing the work we’re doing? The company goals.
It’s too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of work and lose sight of whether the work is actually impacting the bottom line. So, we start from the bottom line.
#2: Then, we go to the 1k foot view. What are the different parts of the company doing to get us there? The Department Updates.
Companies excel when everyone is rowing in the same direction. If we silo ourselves to our little corners of the company, we have no idea how our work fits in with everyone else’s work to get us to our goals.
So, we all put together a department memo that focuses specifically on:
#3: Lastly, we hit the 100 foot view. Companies are made of people, not machines. If people are happy and fulfilled, they do fantastic work. If they’re not, everything does worse. Individual Updates.
#4: The most important question - where is somewhere that we’re falling short or could improve as a company? (Process, Culture, Ideas from Other Companies)
To get anything valuable out of this question, you have to build a culture of candor at your company. And actually follow-through with the recommendations put up in this section.
If not, all of this is useless. People write fluff answers and you get nowhere.
But that’s a question of culture. Let’s assume we have that.
How You Can Do It: A template for our Sprint Retrospectives
Everything we have ever built into our company was built on the shoulders of giants. And then remixed through trial and error by failing and learning over and over again.
We learned the art of the Sprint through Scrum.
We learned the value of clock-building through Good to Great.
We learned the value of treating culture like the real product of a company through Creativity, Inc.
In no way are our answers and our way of doing things objectively the best way. But they are what we’ve found to work and help us excel in our craft and our industry.
And hopefully they can give you a little bit of fodder to remix off of as well.